July 7, 2008

All That Glass in the Airport

By Paul Bieber

Last week I was in airports in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Georgia, Arkansas and Michigan. They were all fairly new, kept very well, and the most common building material is (you guessed it) GLASS. It is everywhere. Daylight flooding in, people staring out at the planes on takeoff and landing, and surprisingly cool and quiet.

What a wonderful product we work with. But there is not enough WE in airport work. Only large, usually union-affiliated glaziers get to work on these projects. Let’s see how every other glass shop can get work from airports.

First, don’t be afraid to tackle work at an airport. Sounds easy…it can be…Call your local airport and ask to speak to purchasing. Ask what their set-asides are for small business. Ask what % of their purchases must be from a local source. Get the definition of local…5 miles from the airport, 10 miles, or maybe just the city or town the airport is in. You are not going to get the tower windows, those are a specialty to themselves, but you should be able to get on the bid list for other structural work. Sometimes it is union only, or prevailing wage. Make your own decision if you want to open up that box. But, (yes, the famous ‘but’) there is more work on the interior than in the structural envelope. This is where every local glass shop can get a lot of work.

Check with the airport management if you need a license to work on airport property. Let them check you out, visit you, or whatever it takes to get this license. Look at all the rest rooms in the airport. Look at all the hand rails, the smoke baffles and decorative displays. All use glass, and a major union glazier can’t be competitive going in to replace one piece of mirror in the rest room.

The mother-lode is all of the retail stores. Every one has fixtures made of glass. Whether a sneeze guard at the fast food, or the display cubes at the clothing store. Here’s how to get this business:

Walk through the entire airport writing down the name of every merchant, big and small. The Cincinnati airport, for example, has over 200 merchants, according to their info desk. Small airports will have a news stand, three types of restaurants and a book store. Whatever the count, give the names to the person in your office who answers the phone. When the phone is not ringing in, have her/him call each and every store and ask how you can get on the bid list for their local glass work. If the store is putting up a new front, there are glass shops that come in a specialize in that on a national basis, but the replacement of one lite is almost always the responsibility of the local manager. After the phone contact, follow up with a letter and whatever you give away that has your name and phone number.

Follow up twice a year with a note describing your services, emphasizing your willingness to repair or replace even one lite, and mentioning you are cleared to work in the airport, and you will work at odd hours, which is usually required, just like at shopping malls.

Raise your service charge to cover two extra hours of time, just to get in and get out of the airport. This may be expensive, but the stores are used to paying this. They know it is part of their cost to be in the airport. Make sure your employees are clean, neat and have their picture ID’s. Have a work order from the store and a manifest of what is on your truck for a security stop.

Shopping malls can have one or two recognized glaziers who are the only ones allowed to do work in their location. This is usually based on a financial arrangement. But airports are always owned by governmental authority and can’t grant that type of restrictive work arrangement. Whatever size your shop is, if you want to go after this market, you can do it.